Measles outbreak in Ohio hospitalizes more than 32 children

Measles outbreak in Ohio hospitalizes more than 32 children

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A child with a measles rash.

A child with a measles rash.
photo: Shutterstock (Shutterstock)

A measles outbreak in Columbus, Ohio, has sickened more than 80 children and hospitalized dozens. Most of these cases involved unvaccinated children who were nevertheless eligible for vaccination. It is not yet clear how long the outbreak will last, with the latest case only being discovered last week.

First the staff of Columbus Public Health reported the outbreak in early November, although the first known cases are now believed to have started in mid-October. According to CPH publicly available data, updated Tuesday morning, there are now 82 confirmed cases of measles in the area, while 32 children have been hospitalized. none has died.

Measles is an incredibly contagious viral disease that usually causes a flu-like illness and a characteristic rash. Although most cases are mild, the risk of severe, life-threatening complications is greater in very young children. eeven a typical case may have far-reaching effects, because the measles virus can restore a person’s immunity to other infections. Fortunately, there is a safe and highly effective two-dose vaccine—the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine—that has helped drive measles out of the local circulation in many countries, including the United States.

Unfortunately, many areas of the world remain poorly vaccinated against measles and the virus continues to kill over 100,000 people a year, mostly children under the age of five. Sometimes cases imported from other countries can cause outbreaks in the U.S. that largely spread among pockets of unvaccinated individuals and communities — and that appears to be what happened here.

Of the 82 cases documented so far, at least 74 are in unvaccinated children. Four other cases were reported in partially vaccinated children and four in children whose vaccination status was unknown. Some cases involved children who were too young to be vaccinated, but 66% of cases involved children between the ages of one and five, meaning they were eligible for vaccination. So it is likely that many or most of these children have parents who refused to vaccinate them.

The first few years of the pandemic saw a decline in reported measles cases, both in the United States and worldwide. But the virus has likely made a fierce comeback this year, thanks in large part to disrupted childhood vaccination programs and growing anti-vaccination sentiment around the world. According to the World Health Organization, measles should be considered immediate threat to public health to any region of the world.

Measles remains locally eliminated in the US, but there are worrying trends here too. For example, a recent study from the Kaiser Foundation showed an increase in adults disagreeing with childhood vaccination mandates for public school entry, which covers the MMR vaccine and many others. However, this increase appears to be most concentrated among Republican-leaning adults. A total of 28% of people now say parents should decide whether children get these routine vaccinations, even at the cost of putting others at risk, compared to 16% who said the same in 2019. Public support for children in need specifically from the MMR vaccine also fell from 82% to 71% during that time.

Although newly reported cases in Ohio have declined in recent weeks, the outbreak may not be over. The last case identified as someone developing the telltale rash occurred on Dec. 19, according to CPH data. It’s measles usually most contagious four days before and four days after the rash appears, and it can take up to two weeks for symptoms of a new case to appear.

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